Robo C2 Brings Simplicity to Complex 3D Printing [Review]

November 21, 2017

11:30 am

3D printing is not just for hobbyists any more, companies are banking on the technology and truly putting the results to work. Local Motors is always our go to example, having seen them create some amazing vehicles using 3D printed parts, but there are plenty of startups rapidly prototyping hardware and mockups using these devices, too. In order to make a 3D printer viable for such a situation, the hardware needs to accurately print parts with as little tinkering as possible. That is where the Robo C2 comes in.

Robo 3D’s C2 printer not only gives you an accurate print (no post-print sanding and dremel action), but it’s designed to all be easy enough where less technical people can work with it. On top of this it includes a few bells and whistles like a color touchscreen and Wi-Fi connectivity to manage the device through an app. If that sounds promising, you’re not alone in that thinking. Even before the hardware became reality, Robo 3D as a company amassed more than $1 million through crowdfunding across 1,645 backers. While impressive on paper, we wanted to see how it acts in person.

Robo C2 First Look and Review

Getting Started

Setting up a 3D printer can range from building the entire machine to just turning it on and popping in a material cartridge for it to be print ready. The Robo C2 is closer to the latter where the setup time took maybe 10 minutes in total, and that included popping off guards used to protect components in transit. Once you’ve done that you simply pop the PLA spool onto a resting peg, loop the PLA material into a feed tube, and the feed tube into the machine. Then you manually set the Z-offset to ensure the prints come out accurately, and you’re good to go.

Now, I don’t know if you watched the disaster that was the 3D printer I built drunk (that was so we can test a breathalyzer), but that was and endless mess by comparison. Even comparing this to a few other similarly priced models this was relatively painless, and the printing process is even easier.

Printing With Robo C2

Here’s how we decided to review the Robo C2 in comparison to other 3D printers on the market at similar price points: Ease of use, accuracy in printing, time to print, maintence on the machine, printing options (materials, print size).

Printing with the Robo C2 is super easy, at least once you’ve gone through the trouble of creating your own 3D design. Since I have no design skills, I used a combination of the test prints, a custom design I had made from someone on Fiverr, and a few items off of Thingiverse.

If you’ve never used a 3D printer before, Robo C2 makes this insanely simple because the machine includes its own software to slice a file properly so that it can print, or you can use an existing file and use their walkthrough on software like Cura to ensure it slices a file to the C2’s specifications. That part took about 10 to 15 minutes because you have a few files to download, some small boxes to ensure have the right numbers in it, and then importing a few settings.

Then, to print all I had to do was either download the .stl file onto the included USB drive and load it in the machine or connect the machine to the app and drop the file through Google Drive or Dropbox. It will then calculate the printing time, and then off it goes. I did notice that the printing time it gives you versus the actual time tends to be off by a good bit though. In some cases anywhere from 2-5 hours off, but that can also be due to the print quality setting, too.

To monitor the print, this does not include a camera like the R2; however, the web app provides timing information. Sure, you can’t keep an eye on it in the event the print messes up, but at least you get some remote monitoring.

On accuracy of the output, the Robo C2 is a total champ. I’ve seen 3D prints that have come from everything like MakerBot to the terrible monster that I created, and Robo’s print quality is just shy of perfect. With only the initial minor calibration, it uses IR sensors to ensure the bed is leveled. As a result you don’t get crazy banding, wiggle lines, or even the need to sand parts down. In a few areas I did notice a few grooves, but it wasn’t always present. While I only tested PLA for prints, according to Robo you can use about 15 different kinds currently. Without a heated bed, you may run into issues using ABS, but the machine does support it and Robo 3D even specially shows a spool designed for the C2. Other speciality PLA materials such as wood and carbon fiber are also supported.

A failed Pugloaf and failed pineapple

From left: Robo C2’s work that shows no waves and minimal grooving, and on right the ANET A8 failed print with waves and grooves.

Robo C2 has several detailed example prints like this vase

Overall I was surprised by just how easy the Robo C2 was to work with. Even if you had no real experience working with something like Cura to slice your files, the hardware has it all built in and does the heavy lifting. In total you’d likely only need about a half hour to really learn the basics on the machine and get it setup to start printing. Because of this it feels like a worth contender to bring into a learning environment like a school or tinker lab; however, for hobbyists this feels like it may be a bit more expensive than necessary due to the slower printing speeds and smaller printing size. That doesn’t mean it won’t work for folks looking to make the occasional print, especially if they want it to be highly accurate, but the ease of use comes with a bit of a premium.

Tech Specs

  • Print size: 5 x 5 x 6 in
  • Layer resolution: 20–300 microns
  • Travel speed: Up to 250 mm/s
  • Print head: Quick Change Nozzle
  • XYZ accuracy: 12.5, 12.5, 5 microns
  • Print plate leveling tech: Automatic Leveling Calibration
  • Print technology: Fused Filament Fabrication
  • Print speed: Up to 16 mm3/s
  • Nozzle diameter: 0.4 mm Nozzle
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi + Mobile App
  • Components: Raspberry Pi, adreno GPU

Design and Ease of Use

The design of a 3D printer plays a huge role in how effective it will be. The more tinkering, maintenance, and inaccurate it is, the less time you’ll have printing and more time reprinting failed projects. Fortunately with the Robo C2 they use some pretty good parts to reduce a lot of the issues you’ll run into with a DIY version.

Now I’m not talking about the outer casing, which for the C2 makes it look a bit space age in nature, but more so the components. Some printers have systems where the printing extruder and nozzle move around the printing area both vertically and horizontally, others, like the C2, just do it horizontally and are more accurate as a result. This is done by the bed of the print lifting up and down, which in this machine will auto level, and start your printing off perfectly rather than possibly up in the air.

For example, the 3D printer that I built took a lot more calibration and constant fiddling because of this, and it took away from the actual use of the printer. If you’re looking to tweak and optimize something, plus save money, then go for the DIY. If your prints really matter and you’re justing it for rapid prototyping or learning, then printers like the C2 are a must. That being said there were three weak points I ran into with the design on the C2, but they are not show stoppers.

To start, there is a touchscreen built into the housing of the Robo C2, and the pressure sensitivity is not highly reactive to regular touch. That means you’re going to be squishing a little harder than you’d expect, which in the short-term isn’t really an issue; however, if you are planning to use this as a learning machine and combine it with eager fingers attached to kids, they may eventually wear it out or damage it. Obviously this is just my assumption, but worth noting. On the flip side their wifi connected app will allow you to bypass the touch screen after setup though.

The touchscreen is certainly not a deal breaker, but the lack of a heated bed can be a potential issue. ABS is one of the more common materials used for 3D printing, and typically you need a heated bed or it will warm. I can’t speak to the functionality and results of Robo C2’s ABS skills since I’m not a fan of the fumes it puts out, but it’s important to note that you may run into issues if you plan to print larger ABS based prints. That said, even with the PLA and my notorious Pugloaf file that is designed to warp at the bed, it had no issues…. Until the final weak design point.

Now most of this is user error because I didn’t secure it properly, but around the extruder is a magnetic plate that features Robo’s logo on it. Not only did not I not properly secure it, the printer was on a crappy Ikea desk that rocks around pretty good, so when the print was in full gear the plate wiggled off and killed the print. Fortunately the plate has no impact on printing, so I just removed it after that and things worked out fine.

As far as these three weak points go, none are show stoppers. The plate can be removed, the lack of a heated bed hasn’t been fully tested against ABS prints so I can’t fully speak to that, and the touchscreen still works better than the stubby buttons on the terrible 3D printer I built. As a result that means I was not constantly tinkering with the settings, the auto-leveling bed makes regular printing insanely easy, and the setup process took maybe five minutes. Even the print walkthrough to set a file was easy to do, especially when you consider how technical Cura can be for first-time users.

Overall the design of the Robo C2 feeds into just how easy it is to work with. From the removable printing bed, the automatic leveling, and the included filament tube make this easy to setup and reduce your need to tinker with it.

Design Specs

  • Weight: 20.8 lbs
  • Size (w x h x d): 13 x 18.25 x 12.75 in
  • Removable Print Bed

Robo Support

Back in the day computers were a bit of a nightmare when you left things like USB drives or yes even boot discs in them. Some reason, and I’m just going to blame Microsoft, these systems ignored what they have always booted from, and in the process temporarily screwed up. Now most machines avoid this user error; however, the C2 uses Raspberry Pi and it’s a bit more simplistic in nature.

If you’ve guessed that I totally messed up the operating system on it, then you’re right. If you didn’t, you should know that I’m a pro and screwing technology up, which makes me great at QA. The Robo C2 includes a USB drive with some important files on it, and if not using their app to drop a print file, then you typically use that. I left it in when I unplugged the system (and didn’t run the shutdown process), and the next time I booted it up with the drive left in something went wonky. It looks like I’m not the only one that did this since they now have a walkthrough on fixing the firmware, oops.

After reaching out to their team for a fix, usually I’d expect to just be sent a walkthrough for a fix, but they connected me with their lead engineer who made sure I was able to get through the process since it included a bit more technical work than say just downloading and uploading something. Now I wouldn’t necessarily give away your lead engineer’s personal number, but it shows how much they care to walk their customers through getting back up and running.

Pros and Cons

Highs

  • Highly accurate, clean prints
  • Insanely easy to work with
  • Removable print bed

Lows

  • No heated bed (common for 3D printers)
  • Slow printing
  • Touch screen is wonky

Overall Thoughts

Should you buy the Robo C2 3D printer? If you’re looking for accurate 3D prints and are not a fan of constantly tinkering with a machine, then this is the printer for you. At the price it’s currently listed as ($650), the C2 offers both ease of use, accurate prints, auto-leveling bed, and a few bells and whistles like a connected app. However, much more beyond that there are printers that have similar outputs, are also already built, and include a heated bed. For the few downsides that I found along the way, most of those can easily be overlooked due to just how simple this printer is to use.

Price: $650

Where to buy: Robo ($800), Amazon

Read more in-depth reviews about gear and gadgets on TechCo

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Elliot is an award winning journalist deeply ingrained in the startup world and is often digging into emerging technology and data. When not writing, he’s likely either running or training for a triathlon. You can contact him by email at elliot(@)elliotvolkman.com or follow him on Twitter @thejournalizer.

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